Alonso benefits as Lady Luck abandons Vettel

Alonso benefits as Lady Luck abandons Vettel

Fernando Alonso's childhood dream of winning a Grand Prix for Scuderia Ferrari has come true, albeit with a little help from Lady Luck, who had an eye on Alonso this weekend, and showed no mercy for Sebastian Vettel, who's Red Bull Racing car...

Fernando Alonso's childhood dream of winning a Grand Prix for Scuderia Ferrari has come true, albeit with a little help from Lady Luck, who had an eye on Alonso this weekend, and showed no mercy for Sebastian Vettel, who's Red Bull Racing car slowed down during the finishing stages of the race due to a technical problem. Red Bull initially reported the new exhaust system was to blame for the loss of speed, but later stated it was actually a faulty spark plug that cost them the race.

Sebastian Vettel leading the race with Fernando Alonso behind him.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The faulty spark plug did cost Vettel about 10% of his engine power, but after the team had advised Vettel to select another engine setting, he was able to continue the race and he finished in fourth position. Needless to say Vettel was utterly disappointed, but in the end he was happy he finished the race in fourth position without a further loss of positions, and still scored twelve points for the championship.

Quite different sounds emerged from the Ferrari garage after the race, after last year's disastrous start of the season Ferrari has now claimed first and second position during the first race of the season. Race winner Fernando Alonso and runner-up Felipe Massa of course realized their fortune was a result of Vettel's misfortune, but nevertheless were very happy with the result. Alonso praised Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo for his efforts to get the Ferrari team back up to speed, and Massa was very happy with his first performance after his dreadful accident in 2009.

An emotional Massa: "I am very happy with this result and I want to thank all the team and our fans. It is my best opening race of a season since I started in Formula 1 and, given all the problems we had, I am very pleased." Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali was also a happy man: "A fantastic start to the championship! This amazing one-two is a reward for all the work of the team, both at the track and the factory in Maranello, over these past few months and I dedicate the result to them."

The race in a nutshell

Sebastian Vettel Vettel didn't put a wheel wrong during the weekend, he dominated qualifying on Saturday and took pole position, and at the start of the race Vettel was the first to dive into the first corner and stayed in command of the race until his engine lost power. He was followed by the Ferrari's of Alonso and Massa, but both drivers had problems keeping up with Vettel. During the start, the Renault engine onboard Mark Webber's car produced a big white cloud of smoke, which led to some confusion further down the field. Renault driver Robert Kubica was hit by the Force India of Adrian Sutil, got into a spin and as Kubica later explained 'cooked his tyres', which forced him to make an early pit stop.

Lewis Hamilton locked up the tyres on his Mclaren just before turn four, ran wide and was overtaken by Nico Rosberg's Williams. Until his first stop, Hamilton was close behind him, but was never in a position to overtake him. Team mate and current world champion Jenson Button took it easy at the start and was trying to look after his tyres. At the end of the first stint he was able to push a lot harder and gained a lot of time on Webber and Schumacher in front of him. The McLaren team performed two flawless pit stops, Hamilton overtook Rosberg and Button overtook Webber during their mandatory pit stops.

Start of the race, Fernando Alonso, Scuderia Ferrari and Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Schumacher, who started from seventh position, gained one place during the first lap, and settled down behind Hamilton who was chasing Rosberg. After the pit stops Vettel was still leading the race, followed by Alsonso, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, Schumacher and Webber. Behind that group Force India driver Liuzzi surprised everyone with his ninth position, followed by Barrichello, Kubica and Sutil. By that time Alguersauri, H?lkenberg, Kovalainen, Buemi and Trulli were already one or more laps behind the race leader.

Vitaly Petrov retired on lap fourteen, Kamui Kobyashi and both cars of the Virgin and HRT teams retired before they could make their pit stop, only Pedro de la Rosa managed to lap the circuit until after 30 laps his BMW- Sauber developed a hydraulic problem, which forced him to retire. Meanwhile Alonso was able to close in on Vettel after he had switched to the harder tyre compound.

The problems for Vettel began after some 33 laps when he reported he experienced a sudden loss of power. Vettel couldn't do a thing about it and had to watch how Ferrari drivers Alonso and Massa passed him with ease, and not much later Hamilton in his McLaren passed the unfortunate Vettel as well. Both Mercedes drivers Rosberg and Schumacher also caught up with Vettel, during the last lap Rosberg was only 1.5 seconds behind Vettel, but could not overtake him. Schumacher ended 4 seconds behind Rosberg, on sixth place. A link to the complete result of the race can be found at the bottom of this page.

The new teams

Lotus technical director Mike Gascoyne was right when he during the last pre-season testing days said that reliability would be the all-important factor for the new teams. Lotus drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli finished the race at Bahrain in fifteenth and seventeenth position respectively, a truly remarkable achievement, given the fact that Lotus was the last team to join Formula One, and only had five or six months to design and build a car.

Trulli experienced hydraulic problems during the final laps of the race, but managed to nurse his car across the finish line. Kovalainen had no problems at all, and Malaysian team owner Tony Fernandes was over the moon with the result: "Six months of work and to have both cars finish is just unbelievable. We're thrilled, we're happy and the spirit in the team is fantastic. I'm really proud of Jarno and of Heikki and everyone here. It's a great start and better than I could have dreamt of."

Virgin Racing, who initially outpaced the Lotus team during the race, suffered from the same hydraulic problems they also experienced during pre- season testing, Lucas di Grassi retired after three laps, and Timo Glock followed him after he had completed seventeen laps. Before his retirement Glock had overtaken the Lotus of Kovalainen, but after that lost third and fifth gear and was forced to give up.

According to Technical Director Nick Wirth Glock's car had a problem with the temperature of the gearbox, which resulted in a gradual loss in the number of gears. But Wirth remained optimistic and also praised the Virgin approach of designing a car relying solely on the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) technology: "Most importantly, we now know that our faith in the all-CFD design approach was justified, as we have demonstrated that we have built a competitive Formula 1 car. That is one reward that we can take away from this weekend."

A troublesome debut for the HRT F1 team.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The Hispania Racing Team F1 (HRT F1) had, as expected, a very tough weekend in Bahrain. Team principal Kollin Colles had vowed to bring the by Dallara designed and build cars to Bahrain, and that is what he achieved, but nothing more. In all honesty, the Spanish team showed up at Bahrain to avoid penalties or sanctions from the FIA (Federation Internationale de L'Automobile). Brazilian Bruno Senna was happy when he finally toured the circuit on Friday to give the car its first shakedown. Karun Chandhok was less fortunate, his car wasn't ready at all, and his qualifying run was actually the shakedown of the car.

Both HRT F1 cars started the race from the pit lane, Chandhok's race ended one lap later, when he hit a bump at the new section of the circuit and lost control of his car. Senna retired seventeen laps into the race with a mechanical problem, not all that bad, considering that Di Grassi, Kobayashi, Petrov and Glock had already retired from the race long before Senna did.

After the first race of the season it is clear all three new teams still have a lot of work to do, they were all considerably off the pace. Sofar Lotus has won the battle of the new teams by bringing both cars to the finish line, but if Virgin can solve their hydraulic problems, they could perhaps beat Lotus during the next race in Melbourne.

Michael Schumacher

Although Schumacher looked very happy about the revival of his race career, he was probably not too happy when team mate Nico Rosberg out-qualified him with 0,3 seconds on Saturday, and during the race finished in fifth position, 4 seconds ahead of Schumacher. Nevertheless Schumacher was optimistic after the race, and he was definitely not disappointed about his sixth place, and said in an interview with the British BBC his race had been 'good fun'.

Schumacher about his first race after three years: "Still today, a day after my comeback-race, I feel extremely well. With regards to the fitness, this race was not at all difficult for me and I was not exhausted at all." He wasn't worried either about his sixth place: "I can live very well with sixth position and it gives both me and the team a good base to make progress. I have every confidence that we will improve the car." The only thing he complained about was that the photo session and drivers parade took so long that there wasn't even time for his usual short sleep before the race.

The Bridgestone tyres

One of the most remarkable surprises last weekend was the performance of the Bridgestone tyres. Bridgestone had allocated the Medium and Super Soft tyres for this race, but with the cars now carrying almost 180 kg of fuel, many feared the tyres would be shredded after ten or twelve laps. But much to everyone's surprise, all teams made just one pit stop, except Nico H?lkenberg, who had to come in for fresh tyres after he had lost control of his Williams during lap three, and Jaime Alguersauri, who apparently was the only driver on a two stop strategy this weekend.

The unexpected durability of the Bridgestone tyres.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Most teams started on the softest tyre compound, and Vettel completed seventeen laps on a set of Super Soft tyres which he also used during qualifying. Renault driver Robert Kubica was the champion on the hard tyres, he started on the soft tyres and changed to the hard tyres on lap 12, and finished the race without a problem. Which means he drove an incredible 37 laps or roughly 233 km on his Medium compound tyres.

Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima about the unexpected durability of the tyres: "The cars and drivers which were more forgiving to their tyres were rewarded with a more durable performance. This was only the first of 19 races this season. I think we all have a lot to learn about this season's best tyre strategies and it will be fascinating unlocking the secrets for the best performance in the races ahead."

Improving the show - once again?

After the initial excitement during the first laps of the first race of the season, the race at Bahrain soon settled down and according to many became boring, the press slammed the race and even called it the "Bore-rain GP". And indeed, with all the changes in mind, like the refueling ban, the new tyre regulations, the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association) self-imposed ban on the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), the return of the German Mercedes Silver Arrows team with Michael Schumacher now onboard, the addition of three new teams and now 24 drivers at the start of every race, everyone expected a lot more action on track.

The problem is of course the refueling ban, which, combined with the durability of the Bridgestone tyres, led to a one pit stop strategy for almost all teams. After the majority of the drivers had stopped for new tyres, not much happened until Vettel ran into problems and the Ferrari's took over the lead. The race became somewhat interesting again when Rosberg and Schumacher also came close to overtaking Vettel, but by then the race was almost finished.

During the race the first 9 drivers ended within 60 seconds of the leader, which is about the same as in 2009. The new slower teams were several laps behind the leader, in 2009 the slowest cars were only one lap behind the leader. Seven contenders failed to finish, while in 2009 only one car didn't finish the race. But when we look at the number of pit stops, the problem becomes apparent, in 2009 there were in total 42 pit stops made by 20 drivers, in 2010 only 21 stops were made by 24 drivers.

The lack of action has yet again raised the question whether Formula One should improve the show. FOTA chairman and McLaren team principle Martin Whitmarsh has, together with his colleagues Christian Horner and Steven Fry, called for immediate action, and are in favor of two mandatory pit stops. Another idea would be to change the tyre compounds, and make them a lot more softer, which would force drivers to make two stops.

Others think it is way too early to decide whether changes are needed, Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicale urged the other teams to wait a few more races before judging the current situation, and drivers Massa and Sutil also said it was too early to change the regulations. Bernie Ecclestone also isn't convinced immediate action is necessary. Ecclestone: "It wasn't the sort of race that would excite most people I would suppose. But I think we ought to judge these things a little later on. It's a bit early. We ought to wait until we come back from China."

And perhaps Ecclestone is right, the next race is on March 28 in Australia, and will provide more clues to answer the question whether the rules should be tweaked or not to make Formula One racing more interesting.


See also: Bahrain GP results

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Pedro de la Rosa , Michael Schumacher , Mark Webber , Fernando Alonso , Luca di Montezemolo , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Karun Chandhok , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Mike Gascoyne , Lucas di Grassi , Sebastian Vettel , Bruno Senna , Adrian Sutil , Vitaly Petrov , Kamui Kob
Teams Ferrari , Red Bull Racing , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Williams , Virgin Racing